I just put up a video about the whole Kesha/Dr. Luke debacle, which I’m sure was a really smart thing to do. I can see absolutely no reason why me wading into an case of alleged rape and saying a bunch of words would get me into hot water.
Basically I just looked at a few articles about it online, saw that it was quickly becoming a highly complex legal case and an outright ethical quagmire, and figured that me talking to a camera for eight minutes would get this all straightened out.
I could probably make Israel and Palestine best buds if you gave me half an hour with them down the pub.
But back to the topic at hand: social media lynch mobs. People jumping to conclusions about serious issues like sexual assault – before the facts are in – irks me no end. I’d like to share a highly personal story about why this issue hits so close to home, and how I came a hair’s breadth away from being on the receiving end of a very serious charge.
Teenage girls absolutely terrify me. There’s a lot of press at the moment about professional footballers getting caught up with underage teens. This really baffles me; unless you’re a teenager yourself, teenage girls are not sexy, regardless of how much the porn industry insists they are. In reality, they’re a horrific mix of hormones, acronyms, piercingly loud voices and unstoppable obsessions. No matter which way you butter it, there is nothing attractive about a teenage girl, and for the record, you should never butter them. That’s just wrong.
Anyway, time to move on to the anecdote:
Let’s slap a four-string!
Yeah that makes no sense. It’ll make sense in a minute.
“It’s very easy money. You should consider it.”
I like easy money, so I was considering it.
The ‘it’ was the idea of teaching music on an ad-hoc basis at my old school. I was about 19 years old and back home for the Summer from my first year at university, and stone cold broke. Tom had been teaching guitar a few hours a week and recommended I do the same. I asked him to hook me up.
I met with the head of the music department, was handed a few students, and proceeded to give one-on-one lessons in the school’s small practice studio. Well, that was easy.
I taught the bass guitar. Because I’m not a musician. For the record, anyone can teach or play the bass guitar. It’s about as pointless as learning how to play a whistle, but parents were happy to pay a frankly outrageous sum of money to a long-haired hippy to give their kids extra bass tuition, and as a long-haired hippy who desperately wanted an outrageous sum of money, I was keen to capitalize on this booming supply-demand market.
But if you’re thinking of getting on that gravy train, you’re about 15 years too late. This was back in the days where, apparently, anyone could sit in a room alone with school children as long as they showed up with an instrument. Seriously, people: did we learn nothing of the Pied Piper incident?
It’s totally mad, really – I don’t recall any official process to getting the gig, or even filling out any paperwork. I just showed up on my mate Tom’s recommendation, got paid in cash, and away I went.
And I guess herein lies the root problem.
One of the students that was assigned to me was a girl, either 14 or 15, who seemed incredibly passionate about learning the bass. Although her full name is etched into my brain forever, I obviously won’t share her full identity, but her first name was Lola. She was not, to my knowledge, nor did she ever become, a show girl.
We’ll call her Lola Smith for the purposes of retelling.
Lola was fairly unremarkable. Neither outgoing nor introverted, seemed to do okay at school, home life stable as far as I could tell. We chatted in so much that I came to suspect she didn’t have many friends but was otherwise happy. Besides that, I didn’t get to know her as a person at all – not because I was a qualified teacher who was trained in the art of maintaining a student-teacher separation, but because my caring about the people I was teaching paled into infinitesimal significance compared to the £30 I was pocketing at the end of each lesson.
What? I was a student myself. Don’t assume for one moment that the University of Bedfordshire took my three grand a year and cared about how I was paying for my Pot Noodles.
Anyway, the first seven or so lessons with Lola were spent simply going over arpeggios and scales.
No dramas, right?
Haha! Fast-forward to lesson eight.
I turned up at the small practice room and was surprised to find the school’s head teacher sitting where Lola would usually sit. I recognised him instantly from my days at the school – a fierce, mountain of a man with a stare that could split rocks, and one who had terrified me throughout my teenagerhood.
My heart rate instantly jumped at the mere sight of him and I felt like a school kid once again. In fact, my pulse has elevated a little just thinking about what happened next as I write this, fifteen years later.
“Oh, hello,” I squeaked. “Sorry, I must be in the wrong room. I was supposed to be teaching Lo…”
Mr. Armstrong cut straight across me.
“Lola Smith. Yes. Come with me,” Mr. Armstrong boomed, standing up and making me feel four foot tall even though we were probably the same height.
We walked from one side of the school to his office on the other, a distance that felt like a thousand miles as I tried to make pathetic small talk to which he did not respond. I was trying to figure out if he recognised that I was an ex-pupil or knew who I was, but I came to the conclusion that he did not. I then realised, through a series of flashbacks of my interactions with the guy while I was at the school, that it’d be very wise not to remind him who I was.
Eventually we got to his office – an office I’d been in too many times before – and invited me to sit down on the chair opposite him. Feeling three feet tall, now.
“I received a call from Lola’s parents today.”
I had no idea where this was going, but it clearly wasn’t good.
“Erm… okay? Okay. Is she okay?”
He completely ignored the question, and asked one of his own. The words still ring in my ears.
“What is your relationship with Lola Smith?”
My blood ran cold. My heart, already in my throat, kicked into overdrive. I got the distinct impression I was in very, very big trouble. Trouble on a life-changing level.
After meeting Mr. Armstrong’s granite, expressionless face with what nearly became a never-ending gawp, I finally answered, my voice quivering.
“I’m… just her bass teacher. I don’t know her.”
More silence, followed by: “Her parents are keen to know who you are, because she didn’t come in to school today.”
“I don’t see how that’s relev…”
“Lola didn’t come in to school today, because she was admitted to hospital.”
The dramatist in me couldn’t help but admire his ability to create a build up. I kinda hoped the pay-off was going to be worth it.
“She carved your name into her forearm last night.”
Well, shit. That was totally worth the build up.
Did not see that coming. I was hoping he’d continue so I wouldn’t have to say anything. He didn’t, he just stared at my face. Obviously the only thing to do in this situation was to say more words; nobody has ever gotten themselves into worse trouble by saying things while under pressure, right?
Just needed some words to fill the void. Any words. Anything rattling around my brain? Anything?
Ah, you guys! Thanks for putting your hand up, you’ll do. Out my mouth you go; godspeed, stupid words!
“At least my name is only four letters long.”
More silence. Erm… did we need to get more words on the case, here? Perhaps. I mean, me saying things was the only thing staving off the ten atmospheres of pressure the silence was causing. For all I knew, I was going to be sat in that room for ever, just saying bad stuff.
Spotting the fact that there was no barrier between the language center of my brain and my mouth, another thought darted forward with abandon.
“Shit, did she go with ‘Zeke’, or did she do ‘Ezekiel’?”
My former head teacher finally spoke. Initially this made me happy, but this did not last long.
“Her mother informs me she has been talking about you at home non-stop. When they searched her room last night, they found numerous hand-written letters addressed to you. And under her bed, they found a box…”
I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to hear the end of the sentence or not.
“… in the box, were… pictures.”
“Pictures?” I quizzed.
“Yes, pictures,” he elaborated. This guy, man.
“Of… dead bodies.”
I took a moment to consider what was being said here.
“I see.” I didn’t see.
“Apparently, they were printed from… the Internet,” he said, the inflection suggesting that he considered the Internet to be some kind of black magic. I suppose it was to most people back then.
“There were numerous pages of these photos,” he elaborated, with all the urgency of a drawn out, seventeen-page clickbait slideshow. Clickbait wasn’t a thing in those days. Maybe I was trapped in the first ever example of clickbait, albeit in real life? Who knows. I got the feeling I would never believe what happened next.
I wanted the next slide, but he kept going back to silent laser-eye glaring unless I prompted him.
“Right. Lots of photos. Dead bodies.”
“Yes. She’d written love letters to you on the back of every print out.”
Armstrong took a moment to stare a hole through my face. “And you’re saying you do not know her outside of these… bass lessons?” He emphasised the word ‘bass’ in a manner that suggested he was well aware that it isn’t a real instrument.
I nodded furiously. “That is absolutely the case.”
Nothing from the other side of the desk. Perhaps I needed to elaborate.
“I mean, absolutely. This is absolutely not the case. If this is the case, it’s absolutely not it. In a very absolute sense. Imagine we’ve got a case, and this is it, I can absolutely say that it’s not…”
“Wait here, please.”
“Of course!” I agreed, sweating. He left the windowless office, and I wondered how much speed would be required to run directly through a solid brick wall.
I sat alone, reflecting on how many times I’d been in here in my formative years. Caught smoking? Headmaster’s office. Skipping class? To the headmaster. Skipped geography to drink vodka behind the bike sheds with your metalhead friends? Off you go.
Accused of sexual misconduct with a minor under my care? Well, we’ve wandered into unprecedented territory here.
In a moment, police would walk in and arrest me on the most horrible of crimes with a minor. It’d be one word against another. Terrible court cases. Spend the rest of my life trying to convince everyone I loved that I wasn’t a child molester, with them never quite believing me for the rest of my time on earth.
I was on the verge of crying. This was it: the moment my entire life was irrevocably fucked up. Did they still have chain gangs? Was that ever a thing in England? Am I going to have to smash rocks with a pick axe? I don’t know how to do that. I came to teach someone how to play a Nirvana riff on a stupid instrument, and now my life is over. I was starting to wish I’d skipped my own bass lessons to go drink vodka behind the bike sheds.
Such terrible thoughts ballooned in my head in the excruciating minutes I was left alone in that room. I think I’d gotten around to imagining being dragged into the sports hall and lynched – in front of all the school’s current pupils – when the door slammed behind me, snapping me out of my grim fantasy and giving me a minor coronary in the process.
Mr. Armstrong had stormed back into the office, sat down on his side of the desk, and
“I just spoke to her parents again.”
“I didn’t do anything,” I whimpered, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was welling up.
“I know. Lola has admitted that all of this was in her head; a weird fantasy. They’re looking after her. You’re free to go.”
And that was it. Literally, dude gets quizzed about a very serious accusation by someone who isn’t law enforcement, makes a phone call, and that’s the end of that. Imagine how differently this entire anecdote would have played out in the current climate; basically, she would have published stuff all over social media, I would have been crucified, and there’d probably be a trending hashtag about the whole thing. I’d be judged by Twitter, and I’d be fired out of a cannon. In the immediate aftermath a group of horrible people would turn me into a skeevy martyr, creating a counter hashtag in my support, saying things like “uhhhh actually he wasn’t a paedophile, TECHNICALLY it’s ephebophilia” and there won’t be a single thing I can do about it because I’ll be dead.
But as it was, I’d dodged the bullet. At the time I was so overcome with relief (as well as desperation to get out of there) that I didn’t stick around for a ‘sorry for scaring the living shit out of you’, which would have been nice.
It was a sliding doors moment of my life. Had Lola insisted that we’d had some kind of relationship outside of the practice room, my life may have ended up very differently indeed. But even though she told the truth when confronted – for which I’m bizarrely thankful – the experience still left its mark.
I never taught another bass guitar lesson again.
I saw Lola once more, five years later, while shopping with my then-fiancee. I was in Oxford, a city I rarely visit and in which I knew nobody, so it sent a chill down my spine when a recognisable voice from behind me said “Hello” while I was staring at a rack of clothes.
I knew the voice, and it scared the living shit out of me.
“Hello, Lola,” I said, turning to face her. She asked how I was; fine, I replied, then mumbled something about having to go over there. I grabbed my then-fiancee and told her we had to leave right there and then.
In the brief moments of our interaction, I had looked down at Lola’s arm. She was wearing a long-sleeve top. It wasn’t quite wrist-length, and I could make out two scars forming a right-angle peeking out from under the hem.
It was an ‘L’.
She’d gone with ‘EZEKIEL’, then.